Thursday, June 5, 2014

Will To Win

China has all but seized various islands and bits of land from the Philippines and Viet Nam and expanded and strengthened its claims on the entire East and South China Seas.  They have done this by establishing small outposts and oil rigs as well as by establishing the habit of regularly patrolling the disputed areas so as to establish the normalcy and, therefore, the acceptability and inevitability of their claims.  Add to this their use of air defense zones and their control over, and successful exclusion of, US ships and planes from areas of interest and the acquisition of the East and South China Seas is all but assured. 

We must recognize this very clearly.  China is pursuing a policy of annexation through normalization.  Disputed territories are being patrolled on a regular basis so that over time other countries slowly come to accept the situation as normal.  The Air Defense Zone, while illegal in its implementation, is being enforced to establish the normalcy of the control.  The legal Economic Exclusion Zone is being illegally interpreted as a military exclusion zone with a goal of habitual enforcement to establish its legitimacy and normalcy.  Tiny outposts and oil wells are being established on disputed points of land (they barely qualify as islands) to establish normalcy of Chinese control over those points.  Eventually, most of these actions will come to be accepted (a fait accompli) and those that aren’t can be claimed to be legitimate through years of “ownership” (squatter’s rights or possession is nine tenths of the law) and presented to the court of world opinion as custom and tradition (common law). 

The US appears to recognize that Chinese control over the region is undesirable and ought to be prevented.  Of course, we cannot hope to counter China’s expansionist movement alone.  The US must develop close ties with the Pacific countries in and around the East and South China Seas.  Ideally, we would also partner up with countries further away from the area but still invested in the events and results.  Together, this coalition may eventually be able to counter China’s moves. 

Hmmm ….

Do you see the disconnect in the previous paragraphs?  China is able to pursue (successfully, so far!) its plans for regional domination with only its own internal forces and capabilities.  It is not part of a broad coalition of like minded countries pursuing a mutually agreed upon conquest of the area.  It’s simply acting on its own.  The US, on the other hand, is seemingly paralyzed, unable to act without the backing of a coalition, despite having far greater military might, more resources, and a stronger economy (for the moment, anyway!).  Where is our will to act forcefully and, if necessary, unilaterally to achieve our goals?  Have we become so timid that we cannot and will not act alone?  Where is our will to win?  Lead, and others will follow - that's how you build a coalition.

I’m not going to address the political aspect of this (although recognizing that the political and military are intimately bound together!) since this isn’t a political blog.  Instead, let’s look at the military, specifically naval, actions that we can take, alone, to counter current Chinese moves.

The basis of China’s expansion is normalcy and the methodology is routine patrols and outposts in disputed areas to establish that normalcy.  We must counter that with our own routine patrols in disputed areas.  Ideally, every Chinese patrol ship should have a US ship sailing in close formation.  Ideally, the countries involved in the territorial disputes should establish their own tiny outposts with resupply and patrol support from us.  We should be routinely and heavily transiting the air defense zone and economic exclusion zone (EEZ) so as to invalidate Chinese normalcy and re-establish the normalcy of international rule and law of the sea.  We should emphatically re-establish our right of passage in international waters.

Chinese Outpost at Johnson South Reef

What we should not do is leave the 20-30 nm vicinity of a Chinese naval group in international waters when told to do so.  What we should not do is curtail flights and passages through illegal air defense zones and EEZ’s just to avoid confrontations.  What we should not do is allow the establishment of illegal outposts on disputed islands.

So, what do we need to accomplish these goals?  The overwhelming answer is numbers.  We need lots of ships and planes to establish routine patrols.  I can hear the whine, now:  “We can’t afford so many ships and planes.”  Well, that’s true in a sense.  On the other hand, can we afford to cede the entire East and South China Seas to China?  What will be the ultimate cost of that?  Can we afford to someday engage in a war with China in which they will have fortified the entire first island chain because we didn’t have enough ships and planes to prevent it?  Yeah, but even so, we just don’t have the budget to build additional ships and planes even if we wanted to.  Right and wrong.  We have the budget but we’re not spending it correctly.  Three Zumwalts aren’t going to appreciably help us with the Pacific Pivot but the $24B or so that they’ve cost would have bought a lot of aircraft and smaller ships (there’s a use for your frigate).  Even at a cost of $1B each, we could have built 24 frigates for the cost of three Zumwalts.  Which would be more useful in the Pacific Pivot, three Zumwalts or 24 frigates?  We could buy a lot of Super Hornets, UAVs, and patrol aircraft for what the JSF program is costing us.  The LCS could have been the patrol ship for this scenario except that it has no credible weaponry and insufficient range and endurance to operate for extended patrol periods.  Perhaps the coming upgunned LCS will have improved range and endurance and find a purpose, at long last.

The needs of a Pacific Pivot are fairly clear.  Now, we just need to align our procurement with our needs and muster the will to act.


  1. I think you might just have found ( finally ) a job the LCS classes can do.
    I don’t think you can really wait for the new “frigate” LCS and it might be over kill anyway.
    [ unless the Chinese start to routinely patrol with frigate sizes vessels ]
    You better slap on the ASuW package, mainly because it’s the best at the moment.
    But basically as you say you’re are trying to break the normalisation, and establish your own.
    I don’t think you need to up gun to achieve the goal. If it gets to a shooting situation we are all in a different game. It’s a game of brinksmanship, persistence and re-establishing and advertising the nature of international waters and freedom of travel.
    It’s about trundling around flying the flag, and being everywhere and anywhere. LCS technically a warship, it has a helo. And for once the speed might be good.
    You can play who can patrol the most the quickest
    Buzz a few Chinese warships, show off the technology.
    Every time they come within sight of any island an LCS is apparently already there.
    Every time there is a news worthy incident 6 LCS are ALREADY there for the cameras.
    20 odd of them could easily seem like about 60 of the buggers,
    IF they are tankered and run themselves ragged!
    Then again if they use up their mileage you can just build something good next time can’t you ? ;)

    P.S. I do know it really isn’t as simple as that, but until convincing modules come on line, it might be better to actually use the LCS as an OPV, then at least you’re getting something for your money, and it may guide further development to morph them into something genuinely useful.

  2. There is powerful logic to your suggestion. It's a way of using these LCS turkeys for some kind of truly useful purpose.

    And if they keep on breaking down -- which of course they will -- just send the next one out there as soon as it is available and then keep on rotating them in and out in batches until there's nothing left of them to rotate.

    This will give us a decade or so to figure out what should be what in our future fleet architecture. (Assuming we take the opportunity.)

  3. The Chinese seem to use tactics like putting fishing or cargo vessels in close proximity to the warships of other nations, so video footage tells a story of the "innocent" Chinese being picked on by warships. How does one counter that tactic? I suspect our naval confrontations with China will be more along these lines than the battles we fought with the Imperial Japanese Navy, so we should have a navy that is able to deal well with such unconventional situations.

    1. I don't know that that's an actual Chinese tactic. I've not heard of it before. Regardless, the Chinese don't seem overly concerned about public opinion and neither should we. The ownership of the East/South China Seas will not be determined by public opinion but, rather, determination and will - two characteristics we seem to be in short supply of. The country that wants it more and is willing to expend the cost and effort will get it. Thus far, that's China by a wide margin. Our non-commital, hands off policy is simply encouraging China to grab more.

  4. CNO: a very nice article: thanks!



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